Opinion

Secret orders and supposed traitors — TV’s ‘Dig’ and religious history

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The pieces of the religious puzzle that make up the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series “Dig” are beginning to fall into place, and the picture they are revealing is one of history — highlighted by a colorful streak of fiction.

Here be spoilers! Read on only if you are up-to-date with the 10-part series, or want to ruin it for yourself and others.

“Order of Moriah”

This secret religious order, supposedly dating from the Crusades, seems to be a product of the “Dig” writers’ imaginations. But, like many of the show’s fictional aspects, it is based on historical fact.

The Crusades, which mainly took place from 1095 to 1291, were an attempt by the Rome-based Catholic Church to retake the Holy Land — Jerusalem and its environs — away from its Muslim rulers.

During that time, the church founded several monastic religious orders whose members traveled to Jerusalem. Some fought with the armies; some cared for the wounded and sick. The most famous of these orders were the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Teutonic and the Knights Templar.

It is perhaps the Templars that the Order of Moriah is based on. Officially named “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” the Knights Templar were anything but poor. They owned land from Rome to Jerusalem and were involved in finance throughout the Christian world. They loaned money to King Philip IV of France and the church.

That’s where they got into trouble. When the king didn’t want to pay them back, he pressuredPope Clement V to disband the knights. The resistant knights were charged with heresy and many members were arrested, tortured and burned at the stake. Legend holds that some members went into hiding — and took a lot of loot with them.

Writers have been making fictional hay with the Knights Templar and other so-called “secret” religious orders since Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” in 1820. The most famous example is Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” in which a Templar-like order called the “Priory of Sion” keeps a really, really big secret about the nature of the “Holy Grail.”

Enter “Dig,” whose evil archaeologist, Ian Margove (Richard E. Grant), is after the “treasure” the Order of Moriah is supposed to have buried somewhere in Jerusalem.

Flavius Josephus

Archaeologist Margrove says that “according to Flavius Josephus,” the breastplate will pinpoint the location of the treasure.

Flavius Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian. Contemporary Jews are most familiar with him for his firsthand account of the revolt of the Maccabees, a Jewish sect that rose against Roman rule, while Christians know him for his description of Jesus’ early followers.

But Josephus’ own biography is as fascinating as his historical works. He was born to well-to-do and noble Jews in 37 C.E. in Jerusalem. At 16, he went to live with a desert hermit — perhaps an Essene — but returned to Jerusalem at age 19 and joined the Pharisees, a Jewish priestly sect. During the First Jewish-Roman War, he was in charge of a section of Jerusalem’s forces.

At one point, Josephus and 40 of his followers were trapped in a cave. Rather than surrender, Josephus persuaded them to commit group suicide, with each man drawing lots and killing a companion, so no one would have to kill himself. For whatever reason — an act of luck or the hand of God — by the time the lots got around to Josephus, he and another soldier were the last ones standing. And they surrendered to the Romans. Josephus went on to become a friend of the Emperor Vespasian and the recipient of a Roman pension.

For this reason, many have considered him a traitor — he’s been called the “Jewish Benedict Arnold” by some scholars. But in the past few decades, some scholars are rehabilitating his image, claiming he joined the Romans out of a sense of deference or even unwillingly.

Whatever the truth, the characters of “Dig” are right to turn to Josephus for information about early Jewish rituals and practices. His book “Antiquities of the Jews” describes first-century Jewish religious garments and ritual items, including a priest’s breastplate that is critical to the “Dig” plotline.

But using such a breastplate as a treasure map is fictional — not historical — at all.

YS/MG END WINSTON

Eis o jardim de Klingsor e o Castelo do Santo Graal

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Em pleno dia de Pentecostes acompanhámos o autor e ensaísta Luis de Matos, editor chefe do Templar Globe, numa visita guiada ao Palácio da Pena em Sintra. Terminada a visita pudemos trocar algumas impressões e fazer a entrevista que reproduzimos de seguida.

Templar Globe (TG) – Luis, dia de Pentecostes e visita à Pena. Coincidência?

Luis de Matos (LM) – Diz-me tu.

TG – Falou-se muito das Lendas do Santo Graal. Será por isso?

LM – Não. E sim. Há uma relação entre a Demanda do Santo Graal e o Pentecostes. De facto, a versão da Vulgata inicia-se com a celebração do Pentecostes no reino de Artur, data em que tradicionalmente se lançava tavolado e se armavam cavaleiros. Nesse dias esperavam-se sempre milagres e maravilhas. E o romance começa precisamente com alguns acontecimento que maravilham todos e com a armação de Galaaz, filho de Lancelot. Mas não é por isso que escolhemos a Pena.

TG – Outros motivos?

LM – Sim. Como sabes os meus deveres profissionais afastam-me muitas vezes de Portugal. Sou director de uma empresa na área da Digital Media e Tecnologias da Informação e, embora viva há mais de 30 anos na zona de Sintra, estou mais ou menos entre 1/3 e 2/3 dos dias do ano longe de casa. Poder regressar aos lugares que formaram uma ideia que tenho do mundo – e Sintra é um deles – é um privilégio. Por isso fui desenvolvendo alguns hábitos que tento manter religiosamente. Entre eles está fazer uma espécie de Peregrinação a lugares especiais do nosso país, mais longe de Lisboa, lá pela pausa de Julho. Não sei porquê, mas um mês antes das grandes feiras de videojogos como o Gamescom onde tenho de ir, há sempre ali uma ou duas semanas mais livres. Mantenho o hábito de aproveitar para conhecer melhor Portugal há uns anos. Quase sempre há amigos que acabam por ser arrastados e fazemos uma autêntica comitiva. Outras vezes aproveito para visitar amigos que estão longe e só comunicamos pelo Facebook. Já fiz passeios em estudo nessa época do ano a Braga, Lamego, São João de Tarouca, Carrazeda de Ansiães e uma boa parte das Beiras e Trás-os-Montes…

TG – Tu és de lá de cima.

LM – Sim, fiz a escola primária em Mirandela. Conheço bem Bragança, Chaves, Miranda, Mogadouro, Macedo de Cavaleiros… Enfim, estar em Trás-os-Montes é estar em casa. Mas como o meu pai era da zona de Moimenta da Beira, a região de Lamego, Tabuaço, Douro e mesmo Viseu são lugares também enraizados na memória que gosto de revisitar. Durante algum tempo andei por ali todos os anos à procura das memórias das famílias que fundaram a nacionalidade. O Vale do Sousa é muito especial, com uma herança românica única. A cidade do Porto também tem muito que se lhe diga.

TG – És tripeiro…

LM – Sou. Não do ponto de vista futebolístico. Não tenho clube. Mas sou do Bonfim, ali sobre Campanhã onde tinha nascido o Mestre Agostinho [da Silva].

TG – Mas essas visitas são em Julho. Ainda estamos em Maio…

LM – Estou a desviar-me! Outro hábito que tenho é comemorar as Luas Cheias de Carneiro – que coincide com a Páscoa, de Touro e de Gémeos. Não é uma questão astrológica, mas sim tradicional. São três momentos muito particulares no ciclo anual. A última coincide muitas vezes com o Pentecostes. Como tenho responsabilidades em algumas organizações de matriz religiosa, a Páscoa é quase sempre comemorada seguindo a liturgia Cristã. E por ser Chanceler Internacional de uma Ordem de inspiração Templária, o Pentecostes é sempre marcado por algum tipo de actividade. Ora, este ano, devido a uma questão de calendário pessoal, que se definiu muito tarde para Maio e tendo-se dado a feliz coincidência de ter terminado o Curso Livre na Universidade Lusófona sobre Templários e Templarismo há poucas semanas e os meus alunos me terem desafiado para lhes guiar uma visita a Tomar, decidi juntar o útil ao muito agradável e, com eles, com o apoio do Instituto Hermético na divulgação e da OSMTHU, fazer um curto ciclo de visitas como costumo fazer em Maio/Junho.

TG – Então esta não é a primeira.

LM – Não. Começámos em Tomar em Abril, apenas para alunos do Curso. Depois aproveitei então o bom tempo e os Domingos, porque estou sempre em Lisboa ao Domingo e marquei uma visita ao Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, esta ao Palácio da Pena e no próximo Domingo à Quinta da Regaleira, com o Luis Fonseca.

TG – E vai haver mais?

LM – De momento penso que não. Não podemos abusar da paciência das pessoas! Penso em associar-me à festa de São João, que também costumamos fazer em Santa Eufêmea, em Sintra em Junho e talvez mais próximo da tal pausa de Julho (se houver este ano!), logo se vê o que programo. Mas não há mais planos de momento.

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TG – Qual é a relação destas visitas com a Ordem dos Templários a que pertences.

LM – Como sabes o Templar Globe é o órgão de divulgação principal da Ordem Internacional. Fui eu que o fundei e é um lugar de troca e publicação de informação credível sobre os Templários – antigos e modernos. Ultrapassámos há muito o milhão e meio de visitas. Por isso faz parte integrante do modo de comunicar da Ordem. Em geral, tudo o que eu faço pessoalmente relacionado com o tema Templários tem a cobertura do Templar Globe que o divulga através dos grupos do Facebook e internacionalmente. As Comendadorias de Sintra e de Lisboa são importantes bases de apoio ao estudo e actividades da Ordem. Deste modo, o que eu faço, divulgo ou publico sobre os Templários é coerente com o que a Ordem faz. Não confessional nem prosélito, no sentido em que não uso publicações e visitas para cooptar ninguém para a Ordem. Pelo contrário. Há sempre pessoas que me perguntam sobre como entrar na Ordem e eu recomendo-lhes sempre que visitem o site oficial e escrevam um mail para lá. O tema não é a Ordem em que eu estou e onde me sinto bem e onde gosto de trabalhar, mas sim os Templários como Ordem histórica e ideário já muito preenchido de mitos e lendas. Não é uma questão de aumentar fileiras. Bem pelo contrário! O que faço – isso sim – é usar os eventos, publicações e visitas para procurar entusiasmar os que as procuram, a estudar por si mesmos, pensar por si mesmos e concluir por si mesmos. E isso é instrução vital para quem esteja numa Ordem Templária, moderna ou antiga. Mas é também fundamental para quem não esteja em Ordem nenhuma! Ou seja, as actividades públicas que faço são coerentes com o que defendo sobre o mundo iniciático e, nesse sentido, são apropriadas para membros das Ordens a que pertenço, das Ordens a que não pertenço e dos que não querem ser membros de Ordem ou Religião alguma. Há momentos para tudo na vida. Seria matar o propósito das visitas fechá-las a um ramo da grande família fraternal ou usá-las para cooptar gente. Sei que os membros da Ordem Templária aproveitam as visitas para aprender. Mas não se esgota aí. O Curso Livre da Lusófona é outra coisa bem diferente.

TG – Não está afiliado à Ordem?

LM – Absolutamente não. Enquanto na Ordem a aproximação ao tema Templário é na perspectiva da Cavalaria Espiritual como um modelo de comportamento e estudo pessoal, com os seus temas, paradoxos, meditações, objectivos, desafios e imperativos de compromisso interior e com o próximo, o Curso na Universidade é académico. Explora a história da Cavalaria, na qual os Templários se inserem, todo o contexto religioso e depois a história dos diversos movimentos que se foram inspirando nos Templários desde o século XIV ao século XX.

TG – Qual é a diferença?

LM – No primeiro caso estuda-se a doutrina com o objectivo de adoptar as ideias e integrá-las num modelo de comportamento pessoal como via de relação com o divino. No segundo estudam-se as ideias, a suas evolução, de onde surgem e que impacto tiveram na história, na arte, na religião. No primeiro caso vivem-se os Mitos. No segundo conhecem-se os Mitos, as suas origens, o seu arquétipo e o modo como Mito é usado para impulsionar vontades e acontecimentos, sem necessidade de os viver ou acreditar no seu “nada que é tudo”.

TG – E os alunos do Curso da Universidade Lusófona não têm expectativas diferentes de cada visita?

LM – O tema é o tema. Cada um percepciona-o como entende. Creio que as expectativas não são goradas, porque nas visitas estão todo o tipo de pessoas. Os meus livros têm leitores de todo o género. Não sou um autor para apenas um grupo como muitos dos meus colegas autores. Alguns só são lidos nos círculos Maçónicos. Outros só são lidos nos círculos de Nova Era. Outros só são lidos entre duas paragens em bombas de gasolina. Outros só são lidos por académicos. Outros por leitores que não se filiam em nada. Eu tenho uma base de leitores que abarca todos estes grupos e grupo nenhum. O mesmo se pode dizer dos que vão às minhas visitas ou conferências. Procura não ter uma linguagem “confessional” e proselitista. Não estou a recrutar. Não estou mesmo. Deixem-me em paz. Já tenho muito que fazer. Por isso, ao não ter uma “agenda”, ao não querer promover mais do que o livre pensamento e despertar nos outros a mesma paixão sobres os temas ou lugares que eu mesmo tenho, sem ataduras ou molduras doutrinais, tomo os assuntos de modo que cada um que me ouça ou leia possa tirar o que melhor lhe parecer para a sua busca livre. É seguir as palavras que ouvi ao Mestre Agostinho: “o que importa é gostar do que se faz e ser-se contagioso no entusiasmo”. Por isso, creio que os meus alunos não poderão dizer que lhes tentei impingir doutrinas ou códigos e por isso não creio que as expectativas que tivessem possam ter sido goradas. Espero, isso sim, que os tenha motivado e lerem-me e a deitarem fora os meus livros, trocando-os por coisas ainda melhores.

TG – Mas ao seleccionar um tema como a Demanda do Santo Graal para a Pena já é dar um mote doutrinal.

LM – De modo algum. Foi Strauss que disse “Eis o jardim de Klingsor e o Castelo do Santo Graal” quando esteve em Sintra. Isso acontece porque reconheceu o cenário no qual as óperas de Wagner se desenrolam. Curiosamente Parzival de Wagner é de 1882 e o Palácio da Pena de 1840. Quem inspirou o quê? Quem é percursor do quê? Neste caso o que é evidente é que o mesmo tipo de imaginário que inspirou Wagner tinha já inspirado D. Fernando II.  O facto de ambos terem tido contacto com círculos iniciáticos muito próximos pode ajudar a explicar a coincidência. Mas a associação da Demanda à Pena não é uma questão doutrinal. É uma questão de facto.

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TG – Então onde é que o Luis traça a linha limite.

LM – Traço a linha limite na interpretação desses factos. Ao fazer uma visita destas procuro dar aos meus companheiros de tarde uma boa história. Como se nos juntássemos à volta de uma fogueira e partilhássemos aventuras. Nas visitas tento não falar só eu. Também quero ouvir e aprender. Estão ali muitos pares de olhos que conseguem ver o que eu não vejo e sabem o que eu não sei. O que já aprendi nestas visitas! Ui! Eu o que posso dar é o referencial que não se encontra logo disponível. Interesso-me por estes assuntos, sempre os mesmos, há tanto tempo que algumas coisas foram ficando consolidadas. Lá diz o ditado “O Diabo sabe tanto, mais por ser velho do que por ser Diabo”. Ao manter sempre a mesma linha, acabo por ir construindo uma mundividência só minha, concreta e definida, consistente. É essa experiência que devo partilhar, poupando tempo a quem me acompanha, para que disponham logo de dados relevantes para que façam a sua mundividência eles mesmos. Saber, por exemplo, que D. Fernando II era maçon ajuda a entender algumas coisas. Mas saber que ele se filiava numa Maçonaria alemã de raiz ligada à antiga Estrita Observância Templária reformada, ajuda a perceber o seu interesse pelo pintor Nicolas Poussin e as particularidades que se encontram nos pratos de Cifka. A interpretação desses elementos já são outros “quinhentos”, por assim dizer. É aí que eu traço a linha. Se me fizerem perguntas sobre a interpretação, não deixarei de responder, sublinhando que é a minha interpretação. Mas o que encorajo é a que cada um procure saber mais. Toca a “googlar” Cifka, Estrita Observância e Nicolas Poussin. Não me perguntem o que quer dizer. Descubram! O mais difícil está feito.

TG – Foi assim no Mosteiro dos Jerónimos?

LM – Claro. Um livro incontornável é “A História Secreta de Portugal” do António Telmo, onde se faz um primeiro exercício de interpretação de muitos dos elementos iconográficos. Mas eu não vou aos Jerónimos explicar António Telmo. Ele é auto-explicativo. Compra-se o livro, lê-se, até se pode fazer a visita com o livro na mão e temos lá o que pensava António Telmo. O que importa é dizer que não foi só António Telmo que pensou os Jerónimos. Importa chamar a atenção para o trabalho sobre o simbolismo do Manuelino do Paulo Pereira, para o célebre programa que a RTP passou da autoria do Manuel J. Gandra e do António Carlos de Carvalhos nos idos doas anos 80, para algumas linhas escritas e particularmente os painéis do Rossio do Mestre Lima de Freitas e, já noutro plano, para todo um acervo mais recente de autores como Eduardo Amarante, Paulo Loução, entre muitos outros. Assim sim. Assim já temos uma base para “navegar” os claustros. Há informação de qualidade, há especulação, há teses distintas. É isso que serve o visitante. Serve-lhe saber onde há-de ir procurar para fazer a sua própria visita e a sua construção simbólica sobre os Jerónimos.

TG – Então não se ficou a saber o que o Luis pensa?

LM – O que o Luis pensa é muito útil ao Luis. Mas é pouco útil a quem quer compreender – no sentido bíblico de circunscrever e apreender – por si. Não quero que venham ver-me fazer sapatos, que eu não sou sapateiro. Quero que, ao explicar os sapatos, alguns saiam das visitas a querer ir experimentar fazer um par! Uma vez ou outra, lá vou dando a minha orientação temática, porque o tema está lá e fala-se pouco dele. Por exemplo, um tema fascinante nos Jerónimos é o dos túmulos vazios. Até D. Sebastião lá está! Eu tenho opinião e conto algumas histórias. Mas o essencial é apontar por onde procurar mais informação e pontos de vista inusitados ou inabituais. Acho que é disso que as pessoas mais gostam. Uma história bem contada é um apontador.

TG – E no Palácio da Pena, que temas costumam passar despercebidos?

LM – Muitos. Mesmo muitos. Tal como com os Jerónimos há uma visão mais ou menos consagrada da Pena que ignora muitos detalhes. E é no detalhe que está o tesouro. Sim, Parque e Palácio estão relacionados com a Demanda do Graal. Mas que Demanda? Há várias versões, várias linhas tradicionais. Qual delas? Que elementos estão ali expressos? E que outras correntes são determinantes para a Pena tal como a conhecemos hoje? Passa-se ao lado de quase tudo. Um tema fulcral, por exemplo, é o de saber se havia ali um Convento ou um Mosteiro. Não é tudo a mesma coisa… Outro tema é conhecer a Ordem Hieronimita, o que poderá surpreender os mais desatentos. Outro ainda, sobre o qual nos debruçámos nesta última visita, é o dos vitrais. Os da Capela são de tal modo importantes que foram feitos logo em 1840, ano do início das obras. Fazem, portanto, parte dos planos iniciais e aquilo que neles se expressa será fundamental – no sentido mesmo de fundação. Mas mesmo a colecção de esparsos reunida no Salão Nobre não é aleatória e apresenta bastas razões para uma reflexão cuidada. É mais um apontador pouco referenciado.

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TG – O que podemos esperar para a Quinta da Regaleira.

LM – Tudo.

TG – Tudo?

LM – Apontadores. O 515 pode ser logo tratado. Basta 1 minuto e está. A questão Maçónica já foi muito bem ponderada pelo José Anes. Mais um par de minutos e fica o apontador. Quase todos os que vão ou já leram, ou podem vir a ler em breve o livro. Outro apontador é o do Manuel Gandra que publicou informação relevante sobre a colecção camoniana de Carvalho Monteiro, agora em Washington. Isso toma mais uns minutos. Noutro plano, naquele espaço não se pode ignorar o trabalho do Victor Adrião, que já estuda a Quinta desde há muitos, muitos anos. Trabalho extenso, documentado e detalhado. Mais um par de minutos. Como é costume não direi nada sobre o autor, mesmo sabendo que não é recíproco! Em menos de 20 minutos os apontadores mais conhecidos estarão dados. Perfeito. Será então hora de por isso tudo numa pastinha, fechar e ver em casa. Porque chegou a hora de, isso sim, fazer o que se deve fazer naquele jardim: passear. Deixar-se levar. Deixar-se encantar. Viver a tarde. Olhar o detalhe, deixar a evocação surgir à superfície do consciente. É um jardim iniciático. Comece-se a iniciação.

Fotos: Sunana Ferreira (c) 2015

Texto: TG (c) 2015

Remembering the Less Fortunate the 13 of October

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Photo: Gare do Oriente, the main transport hub of Lisbon, Portugal. Designed by Arch. Santiago Calatrava

This 13 of October, the OSMTHU in Portugal remembered the martyrdom of the Templars by helping the less fortunate.

In the last few weeks a spontaneous movement gained momentum: A Few Hours Dedicated to Your Fellow Man. With the help and involvement of members of the Order, a growing group of anonymous people and most recently local celebrities, started gathering every Monday night in Lisbon’s iconic Gare do Oriente, the well known railway station designed by renowned Architect Santiago Calatrava for the 1998 World Expo and now the main transportation hub of the capital city. The railway/bus/underground station is sought after by homeless people that choose the architectural marvel to spend their night with a roof over their heads. And they are dozens. And dozens. Of all ages and backgrounds. Since the worldwide crisis reached Portugal and the national government was forced to ask for help from the IMF, the European Bank and the European Union, unemployment has risen to unheard-of numbers and salaries plummeted to a level where some people, although they still work, can’t make their ends meet for them and their families. All sorts of welfare support and pensions were cut down, leaving the most fragile in Portugal in a situation close to the most abject poverty, stripped of their livelihood and dignity.

This last 13 of October, instead of a gala dinner event, a nice ceremony or a simple prayer, the Templars of Portugal decided to honor those fallen in France in 1307 by remembering those falling close to us who do not have the benefit to have access to a simple bed or the most basic food. This 13 of October we gave our time to help others.

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It was with a great sense of humility and compassion that the Portuguese Knights, Dames and Squires came to the Gare do Oriente, bringing food, first-need goods such as blankets, clothing, soap and hygiene products, and sat down with homeless men and women at a long table specially prepared in a local restaurant. They sat, they ate, they talked and heard firsthand the stories and misfortunes that seem to befall more and more people around them. Nobody dressed in regalia. There wasn’t even a Templar cross to be seen. Nobody tried to convert anyone else to a religion or way of thinking. They were all equals at the table and for a couple of hours the dream of a life without inequality was lived at that table.

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What better lesson could we teach our Squires that are ready to become more fully committed with the Order’s values and duties?

Well, if you want to know, join us in Lisbon next Monday. Every Monday.

Luis de Matos
Prior General, Portugal
OSMTHU

 

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Dia de São Miguel

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Raffaello Sanzio - Tutt'Art@ - (46)

Hoje foi dia de São Miguel. O Arcanjo que encabeça as milícias celestes. O que eleva a espada ao céu e traz a justiça aos injustiçados. O que não dá tréguas às criaturas dos abismos nem paz aos senhores da guerra. Lâmina afiada, corta a direito. Desfaz a escamosa goela num golpe, esventra a peçonha, rompe a perfídia em farrapos finos. Não é mandado por Deus à cabeceira do doente para lhe dar força e confortar. Não canta no coro das esferas celestiais. Não traz novas de vida com o lírio na mão. Não sopra ao ouvido cândidas palavras. Não guarda do infortúnio. Não dá a mão ao débil. Não. Deus não o fez Senhor das Milícias para que fosse admirado, mas para que fosse temido. Não para que deslumbrasse em halo radiante, mas para espavorir os adversários da luz. Não é um anjinho de peanha. Não é uma cara fofa da renascença. Não agarra as saias da Virgem. É o medo na sua mais pura forma. O medo imparável do férreo castigo que tem por lei a lâmina, para quem tem por anima não ter lei. É o dia do fim dos que roubam na noite. É o tormento dos que atormentam. O suplício dos perversos. O carrasco dos assassinos. Algoz dos tiranos. Verdugo dos opressores. É a lei em forma de espada flamígera e fatal. Espada em brasa, rubor de lume e dor, golpe desferido do alto, certeiro, imparável e preciso como um diamante cortante.

Dia de São Miguel. Da milícia de justiça. Vértice celeste da Cavalaria terrestre. Protege-nos, nosso chefe arquiangélico. Tu, que ouviste o nosso humilde murmúrio nos corredores do Templo: ao Teu nome dá glória. Ao teu nome dá glória. Ao teu nome dá glória; e respondeste no teu silêncio sereno: Quis ut Deus?

Luis de Matos

Prior, Osmthu Portugal

Business of knights

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In 1565, being on the small island of Malta in the Mediterranean meant the possibility of war. The Ottoman and Christian empires were scrambling for position. Frequent raids on trade routes and territory battles were commonplace. For the Knights of Malta, war was business as usual. Little did any of them know that their preparations for war in the spring of 1565, and the way they fought through the summer, would define the outcome of one of the greatest territorial battles in medieval times. Jean Parisot de Valette, grandmaster of the Knights Hospitaller (later to be known as the Knights of Malta), was given the terrifying honor and opportunity to lead the knights.

They did their research: War took a long time to get off the ground in 1565, and Valette, a seasoned and dynamic leader, knew this. He sent his spies into Constantinople (not Istanbul) in the fall of 1564 and received intelligence well in advance that the Ottomans were amassing a force and planned to assault the Mediterranean. Although historians are unclear on the exact number, it is estimated that more than 48,000 men in 193 ships launched from Constantinople to attempt to take territory, including Malta. The Knights of Malta: 500 strong.

They prepared: Valette’s response to the intelligence was immediate and focused action. He created coastline garrisons and started recruiting fighters from the civilian population. Training commenced for the civilians while crops were harvested early or destroyed on the majority of the island, preventing the presence of easy supplies for the enemy forces. He became an active voice in his community, quickly rallying allies and uniting dissenters in the population. By May, as the Ottoman fleet made landfall on Malta, he had grown his force to over 6,000 men.

They picked their battles: As bombardment started on Malta from the Ottoman invaders, the knights patiently waited to engage the enemy. More than 100,000 cannonballs fell on Malta during the summer of 1865. Civilians and knights took refuge. At St. Elmo, a courageous force of 1,500 men would hold their positions despite overwhelming odds while under siege. St. Elmo, a strategic fort in the harbor, would hold for sufficient time to allow the knights to call for reinforcements from Europe to Malta. Although all 1,500 defenders were killed during the fight for the fort, taking St. Elmo cost the Ottomans more than 6,000 men, and nearly a month of the summer. (War was a seasonal business back then.)

They leveraged their advantages: As the Ottomans shifted their attack to St. Michael/Birgu, Valette was careful to take account of their strategic advantages. On receiving intel that the Ottomans were building siege towers, a crew of engineers and knights tunneled out under the wall of the city and destroyed the apparatus. When the Ottomans broke through the walls of the city, Valette rallied a small force of 100 men, and with focused attacks, he drove the Ottoman force through the narrow streets of Birgu and out. Valette was 70 at the time. In each case in which the Ottoman forces overextended themselves, Valette took full advantage and committed only necessary responses, eventually causing complete desperation among the Ottoman forces.

They knew when to strike: As the Ottomans loaded their artillery back onto ships in preparations to leave, reinforcements pressed the retreat, further decimating the Ottoman fighting force, pushing them onto their ships and ensuring that Malta would be uncontested in the near future. Though about a third of the knights had perished and only about 600 men able to fight remained, the knights had inflicted more than 35,000 casualties on the Ottomans. Malta would not fall until the invasion of Napoleon some 200 years later.

Courage is rewarded: Valette’s efforts during the siege of Malta were recognized widely. Money began pouring into the island to strengthen the knights. With this sudden growth in resources, Valette founded the current capitol of Valletta, and strengthened Malta as a strategic defensive position for Europe.

History teaches many lessons, and the student of history begins to see patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed. For the business owner or the business banker, defining and using these key lessons can put us in good company.

In: Vail Daily

By: Ben Gochberg, commercial lender and business finance consultant.

Exorcism and the Catholic Church

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Although the Catholic Church strayed from exorcisms during Pope John Paul II, the practice has received renewed focus in recent years. Information has recently hit the news that Mother Teresa actually underwent an exorcism. Even the venerable Pope John Paul II performed exorcisms. According to the Italian news channels, he attempted an exorcism on a 19-year-old girl.

Compared to previous years, exorcisms are growing at an alarming rate in the United States. There are ten official exorcists known to be working in the United States. A decade ago, there was just one. These exorcists report experiencing supernatural behaviors like wounds, levitation and unusual scars.

For a Catholic exorcism, the ritual is planned out in advance and takes several hours to finish. It involves sacred objects, holy water and the cross. To carry out the exorcism, priests use a manual that was recently updated by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

In early July, the news began reporting on Pope Francis’ stance on exorcism. He has recently given his support to priests who exorcise demons. Altogether, there are 250 priests who are a part of the International Association of Exorcists. Pope Francis has stood out from previous popes due to his focus on personifying Satan and his works. Video footage from 2013 shows Pope Francis praying over a boy in a wheelchair. Within moments, the boy exhaled and slumped deeper into his chair. Although the incident was downplayed by the Vatican, further reports showed that Pope Francis used a prayer to rid the boy of evil.

Dealing with exorcisms is not new for Protestants and Catholics. In the United States, there are more Protestant exorcists than there are Catholic exorcists. Many Protestants who believe in exorcisms believe that it is a natural way to deal with evil. Unfortunately, the techniques used by some Protestant ministers has resulted in death. In 1997, a 5-year-old girl was forced to swallow ammonia and vinegar that ultimately killed her.

Forget The Da Vinci Code: this is the real mystery of the Knights Templar

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Not so long ago, casually throwing the Knights Templar into polite conversation was a litmus test of mental health. One of Umberto Eco’s characters in Foucault’s Pendulum summed it up perfectly. He declared that you could recognise a lunatic “by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars”.

But all good things come to an end. The enigmatic medieval monk-knights are no longer a fringe interest for obsessives. They are now squarely mainstream. And as 18 March 2014 draws closer, Templarmania is going to be ratcheted up several more notches.

Everyone loves an anniversary, and this is going to be a big one. It will be exactly 700 years since the legendary Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Templars, was strapped to a stake in Paris and bonfired alive. For centuries after de Molay’s execution in 1314, everyone wanted to sweep the ashes of the whole dreadful affair under the carpet. The official line was that the Templars, the former darlings of Christendom, had fallen from grace. Power had gone to their heads, and they had degenerated into something unspeakable (for a medieval order of monks, at any rate): spitting and urinating on crucifixes, worshiping idols, and finding sexual release with each other.

King Philip IV “the Fair” of France had personally overseen seven years of inquiry into the order’s suspicious practices. Based on the information it unearthed, he was convinced that he had exposed something rotten in society. The world, he was sure, would be better off without their sort — so he moved to have the Order stamped out. In the end, faced with Philip’s sustained pious outrage, the yellow-bellied pope of the day (a stooge who owed everything to Philip) had little alternative except to close the Templars down on the basis their reputation was irreparably shot. Philip then spent the next few years getting his hands on the Templars’ vast wealth, which he justified as compensation for having financed the enquiry to expose their dreadful sins.

For the following centuries, no one really spoke of the Templars. They were an embarrassment, and the less said about them the better. It was as if they had never been.

An attempt to rehabilitate them came first from a Scottish Freemason in the early 1700s, but his views did not spread wider than the royal Jacobite court where he presented them. A century later, the Order’s traditional reputation as depraved deviants re-emerged, but this time as the arch-villains in books – most famously in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. But fast-forward to 2013, and for some reason the Templars are everywhere. Promotional stands in bookshops buckle under the weight of credulity-busting Templar plots. Bug-eyed computer gamers, cloaked in the Templars’ iconic white robes and blood red crosses, slash and parry through historical adventures of derring-do. Cruise-ships of sightseers descend on original Templar buildings. And in central London, you can now even unwind with a pint in The Knights Templar pub.

Yet the increasing popularity of the Templars is something of a mystery, because it is hard to see how or why the modern world identifies with the Order at all. The Templars were medieval monk-knights, the crack troops of the Crusades – so effective and feared on the battlefield that Saladin once famously executed all captured Templars for fear of ever having to face them again. As a sideline to fund their wars, the knights experimented with international finance. They proved so talented at it that they were soon richer than Europe’s leading kings, whom they dutifully bankrolled.

They were, by anybody’s standards, then or now, a startling bunch: one only the medieval world could have conceived of. It is difficult to imagine what a modern equivalent would be. Perhaps a massive international army of chaste militant Christian zealots who also happened to own most of the world’s investment banks? It is hard to see how such a modern group would be remotely popular with the public. So what do people see in the Templars?

Darker interests focus on the Templars as the rallying point of a network of violent European white supremacism – a lodestar of racial hatred around which extremism can gravitate. The appeal of the Templars to extremists is probably inevitable. The Templars were founded during the Crusades, which can hardly be described as a time of religious and cultural tolerance. But the Templars are always full of surprises, and the historical record shows that even in that climate, the Templars’ sworn mission was in fact to protect pilgrims and the vulnerable. Nowhere in the over 600 provisions of their medieval Rule does it ever refer to anything approaching a mandate for ideological murder of people holding a different faith.

The extremists’ vision of the Templars as a kind of proto-SS ethnic extermination squad is simply ahistorical. The evidence does not bear it out. For instance, take Usamah ibn Munqidh, an adventurous 12th-century Syrian nobleman, diplomat, and poet. He recorded that when he used to visit Jerusalem, the Templars, who were his friends, would let him into their headquarters in the Temple of Solomon (the al-Aqsa mosque), where they would clear a space for him to pray. On one occasion, a nameless European knight repeatedly seized him, and spun him so he was facing East, ordering him to pray as a Christian. The Templars quickly intervened and ejected the knight, before explaining apologetically to Usamah that the knight was fresh off the boat from Europe and new to the ways of the Orient.

Accounts like this have spawned a growing camp of people who look to the Templars’ spiritual side, and see in the Order a fascinating enigma. The idea that the Templars had an alternate spirituality, perhaps even a slightly mystical one, is, interestingly, not a New Age invention. People were saying it before the Templars were closed down. The poet-knight Wolfram von Eschenbach, writing sometime between 1200 and 1225, gave the German people their first Holy Grail epic: Parzival. In it, he described how the Grail was kept at the castle of Munsalvaesche, guarded by a company of chaste knights called Templeise. This is the earliest association between the Templars and the magical supernatural, and predates The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail crowd by at least seven-and-a-half centuries.

The other ancient association of the Templars with the supernatural is perhaps better known, but sadly more garbled. It was reported by medieval chroniclers that as the flames of the funeral pyre began to lick at Jacques de Molay, he prophesied that within a year the king and pope (who had together effectively destroyed the Templars and condemned him to a heretic’s death) would meet him before God’s celestial tribunal, where they would be judged for their corruption. Although both men died within the year, the story of Jacques de Molay’s “curse” seems to have been embellished from his actual words, which may have been a simpler threat that God would avenge his unjust death.

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Nevertheless, versions of this legend are widespread, and have long added to the Templars’ mystique. Although all King Philip’s public statements on the Templars were steeped in a viscous piety and an endlessly-repeated desire to act as the Church’s protector, the reality was the magnetic opposite. His “inquiry” was, in fact, a brutal persecution, which involved seven years of barbarous incarcerations, horrific tortures, and multiple burnings at the stake. Philip was not remotely motivated by religion, despite his sanctimonious flannel. His coffers were filled with nothing but dust and air, and he urgently needed eye-watering sums of money to fuel his appetite for European wars. At the same time, pope-baiting was high on his list of hobbies, and he clearly felt that destroying the Vatican’s invincible army would be a distinct milestone in his effort to position France as the dominant power in Europe.

Unsurprisingly, it was fashionable for many years to see the Templars as the wholly innocent victims of Philip’s squalid politics. Philip was indeed shameless in the way he hurled as many charges at the Templars as he thought were necessary to whip up public outrage and disgust. He was an experienced master at the all-important game of spin, having garnered support against the previous pope using the identical charges of heresy and homosexuality. It had worked magnificently on that occasion – his men even kidnapped the elderly pope, and when the old cleric died of shock, Philip insisted on a posthumous trial to prove the trumped-up charges against the dead pope. So there is no doubt that Philip was a gifted bully – a spectacularly unscrupulous manipulator with no concern at how much blood needed spilling for him to get his way.

However, there are always twists in the tail when it comes to the Templars, and it seems Philip may have found a tiny ember of genuine Templar heresy, which he deftly fanned into a fire big enough to consume the Order. A detailed reading of the complicated sequence of confessions and retractions made by both the rank-and-file knights and the leaders of the Order leaves little doubt that the Templars were up to something. King Philip’s allegations of them worshipping a head that could make trees flower and the land germinate were plainly fabricated, and no evidence of anything remotely related was ever unearthed. Likewise, his accusations of institutionalised homosexuality proved to be invented. But many knights, including Jacques de Molay and some of his most senior lieutenants, did openly admit, at times with no torture, that new members of the Order were pulled aside in private after their monastic reception ceremonies and asked to deny Christ and spit on a crucifix. None of the knights could give an explanation why this was done. They said it had simply always been a tradition, and that the new brother usually complied ore sed non corde, with words but not the heart.

After so many centuries, we can only guess at the bizarre ritual’s significance. It may originally have been a character test to get some idea of how the new recruit might react if captured and subjected to religious pressure. But no one can say for sure. Nevertheless, it does clearly demonstrate that the Templars were subversive when they wanted. In fact, the clearest evidence that the Templars were not all they seemed is largely unknown, even among Templar experts. But it is potentially extraordinarily important. It takes the form of an original Templar building, still standing, nestled in a quiet corner of green countryside. Inside, it contains an enigma that may yet cause experts to revisit the entire question of the Templars’ religious beliefs.

It is not Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, which has no Templar connections at all, having been built a century and a half after the Order was suppressed. Instead, it is a small mid-12th-century chapel in the village of Montsaunès, set in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, on one of the principal medieval highways leading from France into Spain. It was in a critical location. The fight to wrest Spain back from Islam was in full flow, and Montsaunès was on a strategic defensive line. Surviving medieval charters prove beyond doubt that the chapel was unquestionably built by the Templars, then occupied and maintained by the Order for 150 years. It was the heart of one the Order’s great European commanderies (fortified monasteries), although nothing else of it survives.

The reason for its importance to the question of Templar spirituality is immediately apparent the moment you enter the ancient building. The whole interior is painted, as most medieval churches and cathedrals were. But the Templars’ chosen decorations for this particular chapel were not saints, bible scenes, and the usual range of religious imagery. The surviving frescoes are a bizarre collection of stars and wheels, rolling around the walls and ceiling in some mysterious, unfathomable pattern. Interspersed among them are also grids and chequer-boards, painted with equal precision – but also with no apparent sense or meaning. There is nothing remotely Christian about it. The overall effect is calendrical and astrological, with a whiff of the Qabbalistic. It is like some strange hermetic temple, whose meaning is obscured to all except initiates.

The conclusion of the few experts in medieval art who have looked at the frescoes is that they are unlike anything else they have ever seen. They are “unknown esoteric decoration”. Anyone studying the startling paintings quickly realises that they transcend the small French commune where they remain unnoticed, 850 years on. They demand answers. What did they mean to the Knights Templar? Why did they paint them so meticulously? And what prompted them to put them in their chapel, the building at the heart of their spiritual life, which they entered to pray in nine times a day?

We simply do not know the answers. But the chapel at Montsaunès is proof, in its own enigmatic way that the religious life of the Templars was not as straightforward as we have perhaps come to believe. As Umberto Eco’s lunatics, and a growing swathe of more ordinary people, prepare to mark the anniversary of Jacques de Molay’s death, there will be discussions about individual freedom and the abuse of power, about political show trials and miscarriages of justice, and about Europe’s transition from theocracy to autocracy. But there will also be time to think again about what knowledge went up in flames with Jacques de Molay, and to the grave with the other knights.

The little-known chapel at Montsaunès reminds us that there is much we still do not know about the Templars, who increasingly baffle us the more we discover about them.

Dominic Selwood’s new thriller The Sword of Moses features the Templars, Montsaunès and a number of the themes discussed in this article.

in The Telegraph

by: Dominic Selwood
Dr Dominic Selwood is a former criminal barrister, novelist and historian with a passion for the less visited corners of the archives. He is the author of the crypto-thriller, The Sword of Moses (2013), and the textbook on the Knights Templar, Knights of the Cloister (1999). He tweets as @DominicSelwood